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Full text of "A history of Persia"

PERSIA BEFORE THE REVOLUTION   491
very few questions that do not come under its jurisdiction.
The venality and injustice of these doctors of law, who
rob the orphan and the widow and make huge fortunes
in a few years, are, so far as my experience in Kerman
and Khorasan goes, deplorable, although my Persian friends
assure me that there are a few honourable exceptions. It
is also stated that the Mujtahids of Kerbela and Najaf are
men of a higher character.1
The rulers of Persia, although converts to Islam, have
retained the common law and usages of their ancestors ;
and this system, which is unwritten and may be termed
the King's as apart from the Moslem law, is known as Urf
or Custom. There have been epochs in Persian history
when, as under Sultan Husayn, everything was settled by
the sacred law, whereas under Nadir Shah the entire
authority was vested in the secular authority. In the
period under review, it may be accepted that religious and
civil cases were settled by the divines ; and that cases of
murder, theft, and violence were dealt with by the secular
courts, although by the theory of Islam a murderer must
be sentenced by a Mujtahid.
In practice the Governor sentenced notorious highway-
men and other individuals to whose sentences the Mujtahids
were unlikely to take exception. If, however, a murderer
had money and friends, the latter interceded on his behalf
with a Mujtahid, who frequently induced the murdered
man's family to accept blood-money. In this case both
the Mujtahid and the Governor-General took money from
the murderer or his relations. The lex talionis, a life for
a life, still prevails ; and, if blood-money is not accepted,
the murderer is frequently handed over to be done to
death by the relatives of the victim. In such cases the
children of the murdered man are encouraged to stab the
murderer and to cover themselves with his blood. The
terrible injustice and corruption of the secular courts was
as marked as that of the religious courts ; and unless
these Augean stables are cleansed there is little hope of
internal reform.
1 In medieval Europe the monks played a nobler part, although they obtained
possession of a large proportion of the land. The fact that they were celibate and held
property only as a corporation may in part account for this.